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Michael Neve, 18 November 1982

Edie: An American Biography 
by Jean Stein and George Plimpton.
Cape, 455 pp., £9.95, October 1982, 0 224 02068 4
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Baby Driver: A Story About Myself 
by Jan Kerouac.
Deutsch, 208 pp., £7.95, August 1982, 0 233 97487 3
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... in the United States, and a haunted history stretching from 1774 to the present: the author, Jean Stein, and her co-editor, George Plimpton, of the Paris Review, acknowledge the familial dimension by providing a ‘genealogy of principal characters’ near the end of the book. The founding father was Judge Theodore Sedgwick who came to Stockbridge ...

I want my wings

Andrew O’Hagan: The Last Tycoons, 3 March 2016

West of Eden: An American Place 
by Jean Stein.
Cape, 334 pp., £20, February 2016, 978 0 224 10246 9
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... and things going wrong, but they are at least stories as opposed to advertisements. Jean Stein’s book deploys a wonderful grace in uncovering a monstrous reality – it tells brilliant stories, sometimes very personal ones, and lets their accretion work its own magic. The Steins lived at 1330 Angelo Drive in Beverly Hills, in a big house ...

Like a boll weevil to a cotton bud

A. Craig Copetas, 18 November 1993

New York Days 
by Willie Morris.
Little, Brown, 400 pp., £19.45, September 1993, 0 316 58421 5
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... for raw liquor sprayed with vermouth, at Elaine’s Restaurant, or perhaps it’s the home of Jean Stein, the wealthy and stunningly attractive daughter of the chairman of the board of the Music Corporation of America. Money and beauty, as ever, are important, but power and greed have yet to replace ideas and aspirations in the popular currency. It ...


Ian Hamilton: Locating the G-Spot, 5 August 1982

... by Vogue, got into drugs and died – or ‘astro-projected’ – in 1971, aged 28. As with the Jean Harris and Claus von Bulow dramas which were the CTPs of my last two visits to New York, the tale of Edie offers rich lashings of upper-crust unpleasantness. The Sedgwicks are one of the New England families and much of the book’s appeal is in watching all ...

The Reviewer’s Song

Andrew O’Hagan: Mailer’s Last Punch, 7 November 2013

Norman Mailer: A Double Life 
by J. Michael Lennon.
Simon and Schuster, 947 pp., £30, November 2013, 978 1 84737 672 5
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... years. After I stepped off that movie-heavy flight to New York, I was due to have dinner with Jean Stein, who wrote the ‘oral biography’ of Edie Sedgwick. (She had published something of mine in Grand Street, and was a friend of Edward Said’s, whom I knew when I worked at the London Review.) On the day of the dinner she phoned to say that her ...

‘Someone you had to be a bit careful with’

David Sylvester: Gallery Rogues, 30 March 2000

Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser 
by Harriet Vyner.
Faber, 317 pp., £20, October 1999, 0 571 19627 6
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... may have been the earliest significant biography of this kind, Edie: An American Biography ‘by Jean Stein edited with George Plimpton’, published in 1982. The technique is one which may make it possible for rich girls to produce books they might not have been able to write: assembling a montage from one’s material is a lot easier than analysing ...

I’m being a singer

Andrew O’Hagan: Dandy Highwaymen, 8 October 2020

Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics 
by Dylan Jones.
Faber, 663 pp., £20, October 2020, 978 0 571 35343 9
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... about robots?Dylan Jones’s book is written in the ‘oral biography’ style pioneered by Jean Stein and George Plimpton, and succeeds, as Edie did, in providing a dazzling portrait of an era. The book should be handed out to kids who think that doing badly in your exams ends your life. For these lipsticked heroes, it was the beginning of ...

Good Fibs

Andrew O’Hagan: Truman Capote, 2 April 1998

Truman Capote: In which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career 
by George Plimpton.
Picador, 498 pp., £20, February 1998, 0 330 36871 0
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... good and lively in its place. It is a method Plimpton (along with his sometime collaborator Jean Stein) used much less beguilingly in a book about Robert Kennedy, but which they deployed to quite stunning effect in Edie, the story of Warhol starlet Edie Sedgewick. ‘The form is particularly appealing for a number of reasons,’ Plimpton ...

Quite Nice

Diana Souhami: Fernande Olivier, 13 December 2001

Loving Picasso: The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier 
edited by Marilyn McCully, translated by Christine Baker.
Abrams, 296 pp., £24, May 2001, 0 8109 4251 8
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... about people who subsequently became famous – Rousseau, Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Gertrude Stein – held together by vanity, an idea of how she wanted to be perceived by readers. In the summer of 1930 extracts were published in Le Soir. Though the tone was guarded and the content anodyne, Picasso was furious. She talked about smoking opium, about sex ...

A Most Consistent Man

Barry Schwabsky: Renoir, 13 September 2018

Renoir: An Intimate Biography 
by Barbara Ehrlich White.
Thames and Hudson, 432 pp., £24.95, October 2017, 978 0 500 23957 5
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... growth, and they never had at their service a comparable command of the medium of paint.’ Leo Stein, born in 1872, the same year as Barnes, had an equally exalted view of Renoir, praising ‘the serene graciousness of his pure and noble joy’. Phillips, born in 1886, saw things differently. To him, Renoir was still important, but you had to be choosy ...

The Scene on the Bridge

Lili Owen Rowlands: Françoise Gilot, 19 March 2020

Life with Picasso 
by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake.
NYRB, 384 pp., $17.95, June 2019, 978 1 68137 319 5
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... period, at the moment he became a monument: there are those he counted as friends (Gertrude Stein, Jean-Paul Sartre) and those he had little time for (André Gide, Jean Cocteau); there’s his wrangling with dealers and gallerists; there’s his involvement with the Communist ...

Risky Business

Elaine Showalter, 22 September 1994

Telling Women’s Lives: The New Biography 
by Linda Wagner-Martin.
Rutgers, 201 pp., $22.95, July 1994, 0 8135 2092 4
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... criticism from women writers, especially when the subject is a woman. In a review of a book about Jean Stafford in 1988, Joyce Carol Oates declared her disgust with ‘pathography’, a narrative focused on dysfunction, breakdown, addiction and disaster, rather than on the mysterious process whereby artists spin their dirty straw into gold. Writing about the ...


Anne Stillman: Jean Cocteau, 13 July 2017

Jean Cocteau: A Life 
by Claude Arnaud, translated by Lauren Elkin and Charlotte Mandell.
Yale, 1024 pp., £30, September 2016, 978 0 300 17057 3
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... Jean Cocteau​ had a genius for being seen. As an elegant young man, with the cult poet Anna de Noailles on his arm, thanks to an introduction from Proust, he danced the polka at the Bastille Day ball in 1912, careful, first, to alert the photographers. ‘If I were to take a picture of a village wedding,’ a photographer once remarked, ‘Jean Cocteau would appear between the bride and groom ...

Loafing with the Sissies

Colm Tóibín: The Trials of Andy Warhol, 10 September 2020

Warhol: A Life as Art 
by Blake Gopnik.
Allen Lane, 931 pp., £35, March, 978 0 241 00338 1
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... for the boxes, selling them for $100 or even $50 just to get rid of them.’ Interviewed by Jean Stein for Edie: An American Biography (1982), Jasper Johns said:I liked Andy’s Brillo boxes – the dumbness of the relationship of the thought to technology – to have someone make those dumb plywood boxes and then paint them. I mean, artists have ...


Adam Shatz, 6 May 2021

Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said 
by Timothy Brennan.
Bloomsbury, 437 pp., £20, March, 978 1 5266 1465 0
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... Abu Omar. (He was killed in mysterious circumstances in 1976.) Mikhaïl in turn introduced him to Jean Genet, ‘a very strange bird given to long scary silences’.While in Beirut, Said immersed himself in the work of Ibn Khaldun, whose 1377 study of history, the Muqaddimah, became nearly as important to him as Vico’s New Science, and received his ...

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